Mastering the sand

Golf as we know it today originated from a game played on the eastern coast of Scotland in the Kingdom of Fife during the 15th century. Players would hit a pebble around a natural course of sand dunes, rabbit runs and tracks using a stick or primitive club.

Lakewood Golf Course professional Scott Bergdahl demonstrates the uphill bunker shot.

Lakewood Golf Course professional Scott Bergdahl demonstrates the uphill bunker shot.

Golf as we know it today originated from a game played on the eastern coast of Scotland in the Kingdom of Fife during the 15th century. Players would hit a pebble around a natural course of sand dunes, rabbit runs and tracks using a stick or primitive club.

The British open is the oldest golf tournament in the world. The first British Open took place at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860 with the original format being 36 holes played on a single day with the winner awarded the championship belt for a year and a purse of 10 pounds. Things have changed over the years; this year the British Open champion was presented with the Claret Jug and won a purse of 900,000 pounds or a whopping $1,367,000.

The game over the years has seen a number of significant changes. Some of these changes include the design and increased length of modern day golf courses, the evolution of hickory shafted golf clubs to steel and graphite, and of course the long dresses for the ladies and ties and a blazer for the men to shorts, skorts and sleeveless golf shirts. You cannot stop progress. And thank God for that. I mean really, who would want to wear a tie and a blazer or a long dress for you ladies on the golf course?

The fact remains that the game of golf is continually evolving. Our knowledge of the game is better. The golf club manufacturers are designing golf equipment that will hit the ball further and straighter than the equipment of yesterday. Our children are bigger and stronger than we were, therefore they have the ability to hit the ball further than we could. As a result, golf courses have to be made longer in order to challenge the golfers of tomorrow. Yes, evolution is inevitable.

Having said that, the hazards we face on the golf course are what truly makes the game of golf as challenging as it is. Water hazards, creeks, bush and undulations are just a few that make each and every golf course unique and challenging. The one thing that virtually all golf courses offer and has been a staple on courses since the dawn of the game is sand traps. Lovely things if you are spending a day at the beach, but hitting into a sand trap can bring a grown man to tears and ruin a perfectly played game of golf if one enters them.

In last weeks article I wrote about the basics or hitting out of a greenside bunker. This week I shall discuss how to hit out of a bunker when you are faced with an uneven lie. These would include the uphill, downhill and sidehill lies.

First of all, when you are faced with an uphill lie you have to assess the severity of the slope. A slight uphill lie is a relatively easy shot and not a whole lot different than a flat lie. If you happen to face an uphill lie that is quite severe you need to alter a few things.

The first step when faced with a slope (be it uphill or downhill) is to attempt to set the angle of your shoulder parallel to the angle of the slope. Doing so will assist in allowing the club in travelling parallel to the angle of the slope.

The next step is ball position. In most cases (based on the severity of the slope) the ball should be positioned further forward in your stance than for a normal sand shot. For most sand shots, the ball will be positioned a few inches inside your front heel. On an uphill sand shot, you need to move the ball position slightly forward to assist in making proper contact with the sand. When making your swing, keep in mind that this ball will fly higher and shorter than a normal bunker shot ,therefore consider a larger stroke for better distance control.

The downhill sand shot is considered the most difficult of all sand shots. The key to this shot is once again attempting to set the angle of your shoulders parallel to the angle of the slope you are standing on. Doing so will most certainly place most of your weight on your front foot.

Once again, ball position will be a key factor to good contact and be a key component to your success. On a downhill slope, the ball position needs to be further back in your stance. How far back in your stance will be determined by the severity of the slope, but in most cases closer to your back foot than your front. When making your swing, keep in mind that the ball will travel further than on a regular shot as it will exit with a lower than normal trajectory.

The sidehill lies, for the most part, are fairly basic and not as difficult as the previous two. When you are on a side hill lie and the ball is above your feet you need to first of all choke down on the golf club, otherwise you will enter the sand too early, therefore having poor contact. Of course, the severity of the slope will determine how much you choke down on the handle of the golf club.

The tendency of the golf club when the ball is above your feet is to ground out sooner than for normal bunker shots. Therefore, your ball position needs to be further back in your stance to accommodate that the club will ground out sooner.

When you are standing on a slope and the ball is below your feet, then the key point is to bend more at the knees. This lowers you center of gravity and allows the golf club to get down closer to the ball. Ball position is also important and should be approximately in the middle of your stance.

When you are faced with any greenside bunker shots you need to remember two key points. The distance that the ball travels is determined by the length of your backswing and be sure that you swing through to your finish position. Try these swing tips the next time you are faced with an uneven lie in the bunker and you shall see more success, therefore lowering your score.

Play well and enjoy the great weather.

Scott Bergdahl is the head professional at Lakewood Golf Resort near Sylvan Lake. His column appears Tuesdays in the Advocate.